We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.
As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.
Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.
The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!
I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!
This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.
However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.
Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.
In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!
Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!
I finally received the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting some weight aka hive lids two weeks ago, so I’ve checked hives I was concerned about and, sadly, burned a bunch of mothy frames. When we made the last round of splits, we knew we’d have to monitor them closely and keep the division feeders filled, but then Hubby got bronchitis and I was still dealing with my pinched nerve, so neither of us could do what needed to be done. It’s prime wax-moth season, so they decimated a number of those weak NUCs.
Still, it’s not all bad news. Despite a very dry month, the Goldenrod is blooming and all the healthy hives have large bee-bread and nectar stores. We had a strong Buckwheat nectar flow from before the Goldenrod kicked in and the queens are currently ramping up brood production. If there’s anything good to say about “near record-breaking heat,” it’s that it gives the bees more time to prepare for winter. We finally have lows in the 60’s overnight, but continue to have highs in the 90’s with no rain in the forecast.
More good news is that there are very few small hive beetles in the new hive stand location. We seeded the soil with nematodes from Arbico Organics a couple of months ago and very quickly saw a difference. (The lower apiary has as much of a problem as ever. It’s too close to our planned house site, so we’re moving everything out of there soon.) We used nematodes from Arbico years ago back in the city to get rid of grubs in our lawn, and we plan to seed some to combat Japanese Beetles along with treating around other hive stands in spring. This recent batch of nematodes was so well packaged that they survived being left at the gate in the direct sun all afternoon thanks to an unnamed delivery service!
This time I’m wearing gloves…..
Despite the lack of rain, our single jalapeno plant continues to provide more jalapenos than we can eat. A friend of ours makes the best jalapeno jelly, so I’m using our overabundance to get much needed practice.
A few weeks ago, I included one chopped one jalapeno in a tomato salad, then rubbed my itchy eye about 2 hours later. Wow. It hurt. I was scared I’d damaged my eye. I remembered to flush with lots of water. If it happens again, I’ll jump in the shower to flush with more water. I don’t plan on letting it happen again.
Hubby later explained to me that I had pretty much experienced what tear gas is like! So, when we seeded the 12 ounces of peppers for the first batch of jelly, we obsessively washed our hands before and after — many, many, times. I guess it helped, but it wasn’t a solution! Internet tips say rubbing with alcohol removes the oils and bathing in milk removes the burn, but wearing gloves in the best bet of all! Eighteen ounces of peppers await and I have a pack of 50 gloves in the kitchen drawer.
The jelly was good, but the texture was a little off. I didn’t realize that powdered pectin is added before sugar but liquid pectin after, and the recipe didn’t make that clear. We’ll see what happens today.
What I am doing blogging and cooking on a Monday? Well, Georgia schools have the option of teaching longer classes and reducing the number of days, and that is what we do. I think it’s hugely beneficial to students, especially those who have been fighting the same upper respiratory illness that Hubby and I had and need some time to just catch up. My current school does a great job of keeping absenteeism in check, and that is a essential piece of the longer days = fewer days option. A short break also allows me to get caught up, research some new material to teach, and take care of those routine medical checks that seem to increase with age. Wow — I think school, and my writing styles morphs back into “teacher” — it’s time to go for a quick walk around the hives and get my “farm-girl” back!
According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone. We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.
Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants. We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site. Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights! Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles. We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!
Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits. But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up! What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day? Well, pressure wash hive components and paint! I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day. When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer. When we have a mixture, I hand painted. We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies. Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.
I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting. Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home. I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty. Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature. Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!
My other summer project has been an Access database. Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot. That I got nowherewith Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested. That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful. Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me! I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort. There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.
Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job. We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty. We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year. Life really doesn’t get any better than this!
We’ve made a few changes this year which have led to stronger hives. We did complete inspections on 75% of the hives at the end of last week and saw maybe 20 small hive beetles in total. Since moving here, we’ve seen that many in the lids of the hives in the worse corner of the apiary, but even the two we have left on that hive stand are pretty much beetle-free. We add Beetle Blasters as soon as we see beetles on the frames, but we know from previous years that there’s only so much they can do.
The first thing we did was treat the hives with ProDFM in spring. A little goes a long way and I was able to treat more than 10 hives with the 3.5 ounce bag we bought to experiment with. Most hives got off to a good start and started packing in pollen and nectar as soon as it was available. We tried a different strategy on the hives that were slower to get up to speed.
Following Ian Steppler’s methodology, we swapped (and continue to swap) a lot more frames from strong to weak hives. We’ve always done that, to an extent, but this year we focused on leveling the hives and delayed making any splits. That really paid off in the long run, and the splits we made later in spring were more successful. When we came across a hive that was really weak, we did a newspaper introduction to a hive that had space for a frame or two more bees. Again, the short term loss of one hive led to bigger gains in the future.
We are now setting splits up with more bees and resources and are seeing them quickly coming up to speed. We’ve moved underpopulated 8 and 10 frame hives to NUCs and we’ve used internal feeders as place holders when we think there aren’t enough bees to manage a full contingent of frames.
Back to beetles:
After watching some of Barnyard Bees’ videos about chickens and small hive beetles, I was ready to rush out and buy some game hens and laying chickens, but we don’t have time to build a coop or a run. Between the coyotes, the eagle, and other assorted critters, we need to protect any fowl we bring here.
David talks about chickens and small hive beetles in a few videos — chickens just love the larvae. In one video, he dumped out a bunch of bees in the chicken pen and let the chickens go to town on the beetles — and they didn’t mess with the bees. He also recommended setting up bug zappers to manage wax moths, so we purchased a Black Flag zapper and see dead wax moths on it every morning. Once we get power to the shop, we’ll add at least one more.
If you go to Barnyard Bee’s YouTube channel, also check out David’s video about why some swarms contain multiple queens — it explains why we found two queens out in the open in the lower apiary on Sunday. Yep, Hubby has converted me to a YouTube watcher!
We moved honey extraction to the RV this weekend and pulled what we expect to be our last harvest for 2019. The biggest advantage of being in the RV was being able to turn the a/c off there and leave it on in the house. After extracting 5 gallons of honey using a manual-crank extractor, it sure was nice to have a cool place to go drink some water before going back to the 90+ degree space for cleanup.
While the hives are currently full of nectar, we are about to go into a dearth and the bees will need what they’ve stored. After the dearth, they’ll need to build up stores for winter during the Goldenrod flow, so we’d have to see a lot of excess honey to pull any more this year.
We actually thought we were already in pollen dearth as we didn’t see any pollen coming in during evening inspections. However, we found some common sense, stopped suiting up when temperatures were in the 90s, and went back to checking hives in the morning; suddenly we saw lots of bright yellow pollen coming in.
There is plenty of bee bread and pollen on frames. We’ve known for years that we are more likely to see bees on buddleia and buckwheat before 10:00 a.m. and on fennel in the evening, but we needed a reminder that we can’t judge a colony by what is going on in five minutes on one day. But we also know to anticipate a pollen dearth before a nectar dearth in July.
Our bees have the luxury of a spring-fed creek very close to the hives, but they still too often decide to risk drowning closer to home! They are especially attracted to splashing water, so they naturally like my lily pond. It will be safer once the water lily leaves cover a wider area, but for now I made life rafts out of pool noodle slices. They are able to drink water that has wicked up through the cells as well as drink from the pond itself. There have been no drownings so far. I cut between a quarter and a half in slices and then joined them with yarn — joining them together was more to keep the wind from blowing individual slices all over the yard than anything else.
Well, the sun has dried the heavy dew off my freshly painted bookshelves, so I’m going back out to see whether I need to sand and start over or just keep painting. Impatience got the best of me again, but I just had to see if the paint really looked as pretty on my classroom furniture as it did on the card!
Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey. We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed. (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard! I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )
We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey. There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.
As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space. JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor. I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze. With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment. I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week. (Or do I mean next week? What day is it? I love summer break!)
The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting buckwheat early in the day. I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference. I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees. (Source: Plants for honey bees) That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.
I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey. I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible. Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com that takes 4 – 6 weeks. I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat! I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then. It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….
Today we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling. I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in. Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have. After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!
It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast. Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible. We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday. The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday. Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop. It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!
Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago. We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house. The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places. Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now. There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard. Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them. (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.) The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb. As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want. We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.
I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April. We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results. Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat. Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams. A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.
I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt. That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways. That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives. We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.
We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left! I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight. This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells. We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives. If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with. (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)
Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried. I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames. Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner. We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location. We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands. Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth, and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere. We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.
Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch. Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one. The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go! With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek! Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape. Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay. I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.
There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury. I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf! I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again. Still, my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer. Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term. When have I ever been patient?
The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans. Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority. We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well. Life is good on the farm.